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Recent Lifelines

Trenches/Excavations & Confined Spaces

An excavation is any man-made cut, cavity or trench formed by earth removal. A trench is a narrow excavation made below the surface of the ground. Trenches collapse when they are not properly protected through sloping, benching, shoring or shielding. A confined space is an area large enough to enter and work that has limited exit routes and is not intended for continuous occupancy. Confined spaces become regulated when toxic or flammable atmospheric hazards, physical hazards or the threat of engulfment exists.

Impacts of Trenches/Excavations & Confined Spaces

Working in trenches and confined spaces can be two of the most dangerous tasks for Laborers because if the work is not done safely, a fatality is often the result. Cave-ins cause about 75 percent of trench fatalities. Other potential hazards associated with trench work include falling loads, hazardous atmospheres and hazards from mobile equipment. Confined space fatalities often occur as the result of toxic chemicals or lack of sufficient oxygen. Crawl spaces, manholes and tanks are of special concern.

Addressing Trenches/Excavations & Confined Spaces

Keeping Laborers and other workers safe in these environments can be achieved with proper planning, training and risk assessment. OSHA’s confined spaces standard details the steps that must happen before workers enter confined spaces and the continuous monitoring procedures necessary to keep workers safe during work in confined spaces. Competent person requirements are a major part of OSHA’s trenching and excavation standard. Among other duties, the competent person assesses the soil type of trenches and inspects conditions before each shift and after any changes in conditions.

Fund Resources & Services
  • Use the Recent Articles or All Related Articles tabs above to view Lifelines articles on this topic or browse our Trenches/Excavations & Confined Spaces publications.
  • The Fund can conduct worksite inspections and recommend site-specific safety interventions for trenches, excavations and confined spaces. For more information, call the Fund’s OSH Division.